Baseball – Wall Survives Extra-Inning Scare vs. Ocean
OCEAN TWP. - The Wall baseball team is the No. 1 team in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 because it returns every single starting position player and a No. 1 starting pitcher from last year's 22-win NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III finalist.
Against Shore Conference Class B North division rival Ocean, the Crimson Knights showed that they can win a game with their bench as well.
Senior Jack Gifford picked up two hits in two at-bats off the bench and junior Brendan Barcas delivered the game-winning RBI on his first career hit in the eighth inning to help the Wall pull out a 4-2, extra-inning victory over the Spartans on Wednesday.
Senior right-hander Bobby Patterson also pitched a scoreless eighth inning to save the game for senior ace Tyler Swiggart, who allowed two unearned runs on six hits and one walk while striking out four to earn the win.
Wall broke a 2-2 tie in the top of the eighth with two runs after a controversial call on a diving catch attempt by Ocean center fielder Sam Maxwell. Gifford drilled a 3-1 offering from Spartans left-handed starter Ryan Lillie toward the gap in left-center to lead off the inning, but the wind held the ball up, just as it did every ball hit in the air Wednesday. That gave Maxwell a chance to track it down, which he did by laying out for a spectacular diving grab.
"I was actually looking to walk in that situation but I got a pitch I liked and went after it," Gifford said. "I didn't see the play (Maxwell) made. I just put my head down and when I looked up, I saw the ball on the ground and the umpire hadn't made the call yet so I kept running."
When Maxwell attempted to show the ball to the umpires, it came out of his glove as he lifted it in the air and the home plate umpire ruled that he did not demonstrate control for long enough, giving Gifford - who ran hard out of the batter's box and all the way to second base - a double on the play.
"The field umpire can't make that call because he has to watch the runner, so after I saw my guy dive and catch the ball, I immediately turned to the home plate umpire to see what the call was," Ocean coach Cip Apicelli said. "The home plate umpire raised his hand (to signal out), then as (Maxwell) went to show him the ball after he got up and it came out. I don't understand how he could make the out call, a couple seconds pass before he loses it, and that's enough to change the call."
"I think he got the call right," Wall coach Todd Schmitt said. "The rule allows you to lose the ball on the transfer from your glove to your hand, but in this case, it wasn't a matter of him transferring the ball. He was trying to show the umpire the ball and in the process, he lost it, which, to me, means it's not necessarily a catch."
Barcas followed Gifford's double by falling behind 0-2 before lining a 1-2 pitch into center field to plate Gifford with the go-ahead run. Wall utilizes the sacrifice bunt more than most Shore Conference teams, but Barcas was given the green light to swing away with the potential winning run on second and nobody out.
"Coach (Schmitt) and I talked about it while they were arguing the call and we decided to swing away and try to take a shot at hitting the ball to the right side to get the runner to third," Barcas said. "My natural approach is to go to right field, so I didn't feel out of place swinging in that situation and fortunately, it worked out."
Barcas, the designated hitter Wednesday, served mostly as a pinch runner and utility player as a sophomore last season and is settling into a more regular role this season on a team filled with returning starters.
"I've been working on my hitting a lot because I knew there was going to be an opportunity for some playing time and some at-bats," Barcas said. "I've gotten better as a hitter this year so if a situation comes up where I have to hit in a key situation, I'm more comfortable doing that this year."
"Brendan played pretty well in the preseason and we needed somebody to play third when (junior Ryan) Orender pitches, so he won that job," Schmitt said of Barcas, who is also a standout on the Wall soccer and basketball teams. "Today we tried him out at DH. We know he can handle anything we throw at him, because he's just an athlete. You could put him on the field hockey team and it wouldn't take him long to start twirling that stick like he'd been playing his whole life."
Barcas' older brother, senior shortstop Chris Barcas, drove his younger brother in with a single later in the inning to make the score 4-2.
Ocean erased one-run deficits in the bottom of both the sixth and seventh innings thanks to several uncharacteristic miscues by a normally-sure-handed Wall defense. Swiggart committed a throwing error on a sacrifice bunt attempt in the bottom of the sixth to place runners on second and third with none out and Ocean senior Jimmy McGrorry plated pinch runner Marcus Blackmon with a sacrifice fly to tie the game at 1.
After Wall regained the lead on a nine-pitch, bases-loaded walk by senior second baseman Branden Biegert to force in a run, Biegert committed two seventh-inning errors to allow the tying run to score.
"Not a whole lot went our way today, some of which was self-inflicted, and we still were one pitch, one hit, one out from beating the Number One team in the Shore," Apicelli said. "They're an awesome team and my guys came out and battled until the end, and I can't ask for anything more than that. We get them one more time at their place, and I think we found out something about ourselves today that we can feel good about next time we see them, as long as we cut out some of the mistakes."
The first four runs of the game scored by both teams were unearned, with Swiggart allowing only two unearned runs in his seven innings and Lillie the same until he allowed the first two base-runners to reach in the eighth before he departed. The two starting second basemen combined to make five of the game's seven errors.
Wall junior Nick Martinez went 2-for-3 with a double and found himself in the middle of two rallies. He started the seventh-inning rally to take the 2-1 lead by beating out a routine ground ball to second base with two out. He then moved to third on a dropped fly ball in left field by Ocean senior Miles Moody and scored on Biegert's walk, which came after an intentional walk to catcher Dan Wondrack.
Moody atoned for his error with a diving catch in the gap on a ball hit by senior Tim Willey to end the seventh that was a potential bases-clearing extra-base hit.
Wall has won its first three games to open the season, the last two of which have been come-from-behind victories. The Crimson Knights scored two runs in the top of the sixth inning Saturday to beat Brick Memorial on the road, with Chris Barcas delivering the key two-run single in that game.
"We've been in a lot of those situations and it's made us better," Swiggart said. "We have a lot of experience in big games on this team and when those situations come up, there's not a whole lot of panic because we're all confident in ourselves and we trust every other guy on the field."